It started with a boy.
I had met him while I was on vacation with my family in his country. We bonded over a love of all things athletic and too many tiny bottles of Amstel Brights. He was tall (three quarters Dutch) and made me giggle until my cheeks hurt (one quarter Aruban). And the best part? He was a surfer. Call my mom, tell her I'm not coming back. Her baby has fallen in love with a surfer.
He took me to his favorite surf spots and I sat on the beach watching him catch wave after wave. I cheered when he rode one in; gasped when he got pummeled by one that crashed over his head. And finally, he took me in the water with him. There I sat, on a 9 foot fiberglass longboard, out on the middle of the ocean. Literally. Because we were surfing a reef break it was almost a ten minute paddle out. Nice long rides if you were lucky to grab a wave, but no where to wash up on if you missed it, except some menacing coral underneath your fins.
I was scared. We had popped up over and over, practiced in the white water, paddled out, and got in the line. But here I was, staring at wave after wave pounding over the reef behind us.
"You'll be fine. Just paddle hard. And try to enjoy it when you're up there."
Straddling my board, I remember looking at him staring out at the rolling waves. He was so focused on....nothing. To me it didn't seem like there was anything out there except the water. I remember scratching my head and wondering how he could be so silent for such a long time.
There was a time when I was afraid of the water. I used to be scared that fish would nibble at my toes and that they would cut my ankles with their scales. I spent plenty a day at summer camp with my hands on my hips, belly sticking out, only daring to dip in up to my ankles.
And here I was, double overhead waves crashing mere feet behind me and a statue of a surf instructor, unresponsive to my whimpers, staring out at the ocean in front of him. I wiped the water out of my eyes. Drummed the pads of my fingers on my surfboard. Sighed audibly through my nose.
Just as I had decided to give up and haul my board in, I felt him push on my leg.
"Okay, here we go. You have to paddle until you can't paddle any more. And Lauren? Try not to look so concerned."
I paddled, and he pushed, and in one way or another I felt myself slowly feeling the waxy resin of the board beneath my bare feet. I sank into my knees, fingertips lightly brushing the rails, stayed low as I mentally willed myself toward the shore. My mind was blank and I vaguely remembered a salty ocean breeze whipping my hair like canvas sails behind my head. But mostly? I remembered nothing. No thoughts, no ideas, no lingering feelings of control. Just riding on top of the water for six luxurious seconds.
You know how the story ends. We didn't last, we fell out of love, he lived in a different country. But he did give me the sort of love you never imagine that you can feel for something else. He taught me to love the ocean, to love everything associated with the ocean, to feel absolutely and blissfully at home with sand in between my toes, a board under my arm, and my chin tilted toward the sun.